Operation Tempura: Ex-governor suspended cops against advice

The two-year, $10 million-plus Cayman Islands corruption probe known as “Operation Tempura” first came to the attention of most local residents on March 27, 2008 – when three senior police officers, including the police commissioner, were suspended in connection with the investigation.

However, just one month earlier, Stuart Jack, the then-governor who ordered the police suspensions, was advised by Attorney General Samuel Bulgin that it would be “unwise to take any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against any of the individuals” involved in the Tempura probe.

The reason for Mr. Bulgin’s advice was that Chief Justice Anthony Smellie on Feb. 27, 2008, ruled against the issuance of search warrants requested against then-Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan, Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Dixon and Chief Superintendent John Jones. The chief justice’s ruling – essentially that there was no evidence either Mr. Jones or Mr. Kernohan had committed any offenses – drew into question the reasons for the Tempura investigation.

A month later, it was announced that Messrs. Kernohan, Jones and Dixon had been placed indefinitely on required leave – suspension with pay.

Then-Governor Jack explained his reasons for suspending the men at a press conference on March 27, 2008:

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“The decision to put these officers on required leave was made to protect the integrity of enquiries to be made,” Mr. Jack said, adding that the decision would also “facilitate” inquiries being made by U.K. police officers into the matter.

Recently, unredacted documents revealed the legal advice given by Mr. Bulgin following the chief justice’s decision on the search warrants. They also show that senior government officials considered requesting that another judge be assigned to hear a reapplication for those search warrants during a private meeting at the governor’s residence.

The senior officers under investigation at the time had all been involved in an earlier police probe that led to an entry – done without a warrant – into the offices of former Cayman Net News publisher Desmond Seales. The office entry, on Sept. 3, 2007, was organized by Mr. Kernohan and Mr. Jones and carried out by former Net News journalist John Evans.

U.K. Metropolitan Police investigator Martin Bridger, who was initially dispatched to take over the Net News investigation from the RCIPS, began to have “concerns” about the entry into the newspaper publisher’s office in October 2007, according to unredacted records. That entry, how it was done and who authorized it, formed the basis of what became known as Operation Tempura.

Former Governor Jack authorized a “full investigation” of the newspaper office entry on Jan. 25, 2008, according to a 185-page review of the investigation done in 2011 by U.K.-based Queen’s Counsel Ben Aina.

As part of the investigation, Mr. Bridger sought search warrants against the three senior police commanders who, at the time, were still on the job. During the initial application, Chief Justice Smellie said there was no “prima facie” [Latin phrase meaning “based on first impression”] case against any of the men for either abuse of public office offenses or disobedience of lawful duty as had been alleged.

Following that decision, on March 3, 2008, Mr. Bridger, Governor Jack and then-Chief Secretary George McCarthy met at the governor’s private residence, according to the unredacted copies of Mr. Aina’s report.

“It was agreed [at the meeting] that the governor would write to the attorney general with a view to allowing the attorney general to consider the appointment of another judge to hear a further application for a warrant or whether there were circumstances that the chief justice could reconsider/rehear a further application,” the report states.

The lawyer representing Mr. Bridger and the Operation Tempura investigation team, Andre Mon Desir, said on March 10, 2008, that he would make a reapplication for a search warrant against the three officers to the chief justice.

The second application for the warrants fared scarcely better. Chief Justice Smellie denied the second request for search warrants against Mr. Kernohan and Mr. Jones, but granted the warrant against Mr. Dixon. This ruling was made on March 22, 2008, but the grounds for refusing two of the warrants were not given until April 4, 2008.

The three police commanders were suspended on March 27, 2008.

In the aftermath of Operation Tempura, Mr. Kernohan sued and won a substantial judgment, the full amount of which has never been revealed. Mr. Dixon remained on required leave with the RCIPS for more than three years after his suspension until settling his matter, again for an unknown sum. Mr. Jones returned to work at the RCIPS in 2009 and remained there for a further three years before his contract ended.

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  1. Curiouser and curiouser!
    According to a statement I received from the Met police, in January 2008 then ACC John Yates had determined there was a need for additional officers on Operation Tempura. As far as I know, at that time Tempura was entirely staffed by serving Met officers but these new team members were to be recruited from private sector sources. It almost seems as though he was already gearing up for the Governor’s decision to investigate Kernohan, Jones and Dixon even though at that time it still had to be authorised. You could be excused for suspecting there was a bit of a hidden agenda here and what might be described as ‘mission creep’ had come into play. I’m almost tempted to suggest that possibly the Governor wasn’t really in overall charge of Tempura and it was actually being run from London but there is (as yet?) no hard evidence of that.

    The fact is that this push to expand Tempura beyond the original investigations was being made two to three months after the Seales/Ennis allegations had effectively been concluded. At the end of October 2007 I met with two of the team and it was quite clear back then that, based on a combination of factors including the 3 September search, they were satisfied that neither man had done anything wrong.

    We’re slowly learning more about what was happening over a decade ago but the one crucial thing that still hasn’t been determined is why Tempura wasn’t quietly shut down as soon as the original complaints had been dealt with. This should all have been done, dusted and long forgotten by now.